North Korea allowing limited private enterprise
November 15, 1997
Web posted at: 4:37 p.m. EST (2137 GMT)
RAJIN-SONBONG, North Korea (CNN) -- Communist North Korea has been opening the doors to capitalism ever so slightly by introducing a free trade zone at the northern tip of the country. Residents of the Rajin-Sonbong Free Economic and Trade Zone are allowed to engage in private enterprise, and first indications are it is successful.
What most North Korean citizens are not allowed to do is actually encouraged in Rajin: taking the initiative and setting up businesses -- food kiosks for instance.
The government in Pyongyang licensed the operation of the stalls in June as part of a radical departure from state policy, which bans private enterprise.
Even though the fare at the food kiosks is traditional, business is said to be brisk.
Some of the kiosks serve a traditional Korean offering: dog meat, while others sell alcohol, cigarettes and handicrafts.
"It's good for the country and it's a little bit profitable for individuals. It's good for both," one consumer said.
The North Korean authorities modeled Rajin-Sonbong after similar special enterprise zones in China and Russia, hoping to attract overseas investment.
Observers say the zone is likely to stimulate local economies. "The same kind of small kiosk or small market stalls exist on the Russian side of the border as well as in China," said Ian Davies of the U.N. Development Program. "They've proved to be a boom to those local economies and I'm sure we're going to see the same in Rajin-Sonbong zone."
Rajin is now also building its first public market in a joint project with a Chinese company. It is hoped that the market will be a place where North Korean and Chinese traders can sell or barter goods.
And while those first capitalist steps are tentative at best, observers are watching closely to see just how far the economic freedom will extend.